- Casey Howell
- Twice-fried crab fat caramel chicken wings—we missed you, old friend
Since its inception more than two years ago as one of the first true pop-ups in the city, Hot Joy’s been a hit. Maybe it was the The Monterey’s seal of approval? Maybe it was the relatively inexpensive and hard-to-find Asian eats making it to Southtown’? Or maybe it was the twice-fried crab fat caramel chicken wings? I’m not quite sure. But what Hot Joy’s permanent location inside the former China Latina does make certain is that the eatery is here to stay.
Hot Joy continues the legacy of big sister The Monterey with its intricately designed interior created by a slew of designers and artists, which sets the scene for the meal to come. And much like the ever-expanding menu, there’s always something new to see inside the 4,400 square-foot restaurant, the biggest for owners Charlie Biedenharn, Erick Schlather and Chad Carey, along with new partner Quealy Watson, who’s running the show inside the kitchen.
Broken down into small and large plates, fried rice, noodles and desserts, the menu is filled with old favorites like the aforementioned wings and a vibrant tiger salad, along with new hits like the dirty fried rice with chicken liver, jalapeño, Mongolian spice and egg.
Much like at their other eateries where Biedenharn, Carey and Schlather ask diners to expand their horizons with uniquely sourced ingredients and techniques, Hot Joy and Watson do the same, times 10. My visits to Hot Joy were all met with bold tastes and smells so next level it’s hard to find a comparison.
Trying to pigeonhole Hot Joy into one specific ethnic genre is a fool’s errand. You’ll find Japanese ramen, Southeast Asian shrimp crackers and Szechuan beef chili over Fritos all featured within the confines of one menu. While the kitchen delivers tasty versions of each offering, they’re not hanging their hat on authenticity–Biedenharn and co. own the fact that they’re four farang guys opening an Asian restaurant.
Yes, the wings are still nice and sweet and crunchy (and you’ll barter over who gets to take the leftovers home), but don’t pass on the tater tot chaat, a salty combination of miso gravy, tangy tamarind and chewy paneer over crisp tater tots laced with tomatoes, onions and fresh cilantro. While the dirty fried rice has its charms, I was pleasantly surprised by a Spam-filled iteration. Only Watson could get me to chow down on the tiny bits of mystery meat.
It’s hard to pass up a bowl of kotteri dashi ramen, which literally translates to a thick stock or soup. Topped with pork belly, a soft egg, a salty yakitori sauce, raw mustard greens and a strip of nori, the bowl alleviates SA’s new noodle-mania (after all, Kimura needed some competition).
A few visits later, I decided to commit to trying one of the large menu items, though the rest are far from tiny. My dining partner and I indulged in the hot fried chicken with spicy chili oil, Szechuan peppercorns, sour chilies and oyster sauce. The chicken was tender, evenly encased in a sturdy and crunchy batter. This, once again, turned into a battle for leftovers. I washed it down with an El Diablo, an eye-catching and devious libation of tequila, ginger beer and crème de cassis that helped cool down my taste buds. The aptly named Badtz-Marutini, with gin, plum wine and orange bitters, would have also done the trick.
I then donned my Andrew Zimmern hat and turned my attention to the black curry–because how often does one get to nosh on pork blood and Burmese curry paste? The dish might look swampy, but it’s also fragrant and delicate, with the long beans providing a nice crunch alongside the soft pork belly.
The sweet tooth-afflicted can find solace in the dessert offerings crafted by pastry chef Kat Sees. The coconut tapioca pudding with citrus-y calamansi curd is light, but my money’s on the black sesame ice cream with a heavenly griddled banana cake (I could take down a loaf if left to my own devices), smoked chocolate and crushed pretzels.
Alas, with more square footage comes pesky problems and while most of my visits to Hot Joy were met with great service, my last server was part Houdini. I get it, the restaurant is busy—and has been since opening its doors—but I shouldn’t have to wait 20 minutes to keep ordering more food and drink. And believe me, I would keep ordering, because this shit is delicious.
1014 S Alamo
Skinny Hot Joy makes a permanent home inside the former China Latina, with a slew of old and new favorites, a bold new look and Asian cuisine that spans from China to India and then some.
Best Bets Kotteri dashi ramen, Szechuan beef chili, tiger salad, hot fried chicken
Hours 11am-3pm, 5pm-2am Mon; 11am-3pm, 5pm-2am Thu-Sun
Prices $5.99-$11.99 small plates; $9.99-$14.99 fried rice, large plates, noodles; $5.99-$8.99 desserts